First of all, I want to tell you about a book called Preserving Summer’s Bounty from Rodale Press. I was always too busy and teenager-y to learn from my grandma the art of canning, so this book is teaching me a lot that I missed. It has very user-friendly sections on canning, drying, and freezing food, with detailed directions for preserving just about any vegetable, fruit, or herb in just about any way you can imagine. It is gently and kindly written for people who don’t know the first thing about preserving food – a great beginner’s guide. So if you are feeling overwhelmed by the amount of food you’re getting (or if you got a bigger share than you needed for the purpose of storing some for winter), this book can help you make sense of things! If it’s not already in the library, maybe we can purchase a copy to donate so we can all enjoy it for free.
Whatever preserving method you choose, remember to do it as soon as you get your vegetables home. The fresher the vegetable, the better it will preserve, and the more nutrients it will retain.
Freezing tomatoes: Tomatoes can be frozen whole. Arrange whole tomatoes on a baking sheet and stick the sheet in your freezer. When frozen solid, transfer and store the tomatoes together in a plastic zipper bag in the freezer. You can also give the tomatoes a very quick blanch in boiling water, peel them (an easy peeling technique is to remove the tomatoes from boiling water straight into a cold water bath, which detaches the skin and lets you slip it right off), drain, and quarter. Arrange the tomato quarters on a baking sheet until frozen, and then transfer together to zipper bags. Remember that whenever you freeze something, its texture changes. You won’t be able to slice these for sandwiches, but you will still be able to make a delicious red sauce or tomato soup come winter.
**You can freeze most vegetables using the baking sheet method. Most require blanching first, so either look online for ideal blanching times for each vegetable, or check out the book I recommended above. Not every vegetable freezes gracefully, so do your research!
Freezing tomato sauce: Make your favorite red sauce recipe with fresh tomatoes, let the sauce cool (try to follow food-safe cooling techniques), and then pour it into plastic zipper bags or even serving-size jars or plastic freezer containers. If you use solid containers, make sure to leave room at the top since liquid expands when it freezes. The nice thing about zipper bags full of sauce is that you can flatten them out, so they take up very little space in the freezer. You can thaw the sauce by placing the bag in a pot of hot water, or if you used glass containers, you can microwave them (if you used plastic containers, make sure they are microwave-safe). Or, if you used a wide-mouthed container, just throw the frozen sauce in a pot over low heat and stir, stir, stir. Remember, food doesn’t like to be frozen and thawed and re-frozen (it doesn’t only harm the flavor, but it also allows bacteria to start growing), so think about storing in amounts you or your family can consume in one sitting. Or put the leftovers in the refrigerator and use them within a few days.
Canning tomatoes: Here is an excellent link with detailed instructions: http://www.pickyourown.org/canning_tomatoes.htm .
**Be sure to sterilize every single utensil that will come in contact with your tomatoes or jars and lids! You can either put utensils and jars/lids in the dishwasher if it has a “sterilize” option, or you can boil them at a rolling boil for 5 minutes.
**Remember that you can’t use the boiling water canning method for most fruits or vegetables. Most tomatoes have such a high acid content that they do not harbor botulism, which requires a higher pH to survive (make sure you do not have low-acid tomato varieties). Botulism is NOT killed by boiling, so most low-acid foods require the use of a pressure canner, which raises temperatures past the point where botulism can survive.